King Henry VIII was born on 28th June 1491; he was the second son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. He was never destined to be King as his older brother Arthur was the next in line. However when Arthur died of Sweating Sickness at the age of just 15, Henry became next to inherit the throne and when his father died in 1509, Henry became the King of England at the tender age of just 17.
It was not long after that he declared he would marry Arthur’s widow Catherine of Aragon, the first of his six wives. Henry went on to rule for almost 38 years until his death in 1547. However, there was more to Henry than just the larger than life King who routinely executed his wives when he grew tired of them.
Here we look at five surprising things you may not have known about Henry VIII.
5Not Considered A Ladies Man
Contrary to popular belief Henry was no ladies man. Despite being over six feet tall, in great shape in his younger days and with an impressive mop of reddish- gold hair, and apparently very attractive calves, he was not considered a massive hit with the ladies. Despite being married six times and with a string of mistresses, this was not deemed to be a great achievement in comparison to other monarchs of the time. Quite the opposite in fact; as having six wives was considered to be a failure as far as the opposite sex was concerned.
Also, his inability to produce a live son after 22 years of marriage (Katherine had five miscarriages, and they had one daughter) prompted him to try and annul the marriage and move onto to his second wife; Anne Boleyn, whom he married in 1533. This marriage lasted three years and produced another girl. Anne Boleyn was later beheaded!
Next was Jane Seymour who gave birth to Henry’s only son but tragically died shortly after his birth. Then came Anne of Cleves; that marriage lasted just six months, however, Anne did manage to keep her head! Henrys 5th wife was Catherine Howard who was just a teenager when Henry seduced her; she lasted less than a year before she was taken to the Tower of London and beheaded for her adultery.
Finally, he married his last wife the tragic Kateryn Parr who married Henry out of duty even though she was in love with another man. Parr nursed Henry for four years up until his death in 1547, when she became free to marry her true love, but sadly died just 15 months later after giving birth to their daughter.
In his youth, Henry was a fit athletic man, known for his generosity and kindness. He excelled at jousting and was always keen to show off his skills in the jousting arena. His good looks and power were the envy of his court.
However, all this changed in 1536 when at the age of 44 he suffered a severe leg injury while jousting at a tournament at Greenwich Palace. Henry who was in full armour at the time fell from his horse, who then stumbled and fell on top of him. At first, it was thought the King had been fatally wounded, and he remained unconscious for over two hours.
After the accident, Henry was left with a serious leg problem and possibly an undiagnosed brain injury. Henry became a different person, his personality completely changed and he became vicious, cruel and paranoid, and this was when he started disposing of his wives.
As the years went by the once trim King became obese, and his legs became ulcerated, his waist grew from a slim 32 inches to a massive 52, and his chest expanded from 39 inches to 53. (Evidence of this can be seen to this day in his armour that is on display in the Tower of London)
It was estimated that at the time of his death at the age of 56 Henry would have weighed between 28 and 30 stones. This wasn't helped by his enormous appetite, and it is thought he would eat 13 courses of food every day, consuming around 5,000 calories. This consisted of mostly meat dishes, and he was also quite partial to Swan and peacocks. He also drank an enormous amount of ale and red wine.
However, despite his massive size at the time of his death, there is no proof that Henry's body swelled up and exploded in his coffin and the contents of his insides spilled out. Henry’s coffin is interred in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, next to the only wife he truly loved; Jane Seymour.
3Ordered Execution Of A Nun
Henry VIII ordered the execution of many people during his 37-year reign, and although there is no definite number, it is thought it could have been anything between 57 and 72 thousand. If you got on the wrong side of Henry, you would likely lose your head, regardless of who you were. That included his wives, relatives and even close friends and allies, including his chief minister Thomas Cromwell.
So it was no surprise when he ordered the execution of a Roman Catholic Nun. Her name was Elizabeth Barton, and she was renowned for predicting future events through some kind of divine intervention. She was known as The Nun of Kent. Even the Archbishop of the time believed in her prophecies and visions; she was even privileged enough to have a couple of private meetings with the King.
However, all this changed when Henry was trying to seize control of the Church of England from Rome and seeking an annulment from his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Barton dared to disagree with him about his actions and began predicting that if Henry married Anne Boleyn, he would die within a few months, even claiming she had seen the King's place in Hell.
But even after this outrageous outburst, because Barton was so well thought of it was a further year before the King took any action. Although during this time agents of the King started to spread malicious rumours about the Nun, with claims she had inappropriate relationships with priests and that her prophecies were fictional and the result of her mental illness. With her reputation now in ruins, it was easier for the King to take action and Barton was arrested and forced to confess she made everything up. She was condemned by one of Henry VIII bills of attainder, which authorised punishment without trial, she was hanged and then beheaded for treason, along with four priests.
Her head displayed on a Spike on London Bridge and she remained the only woman in history to be bestowed this dishonour.
Henry VIII is well known for his large frame and flamboyant lifestyle, but few people realise he was also a very talented musician and composer. Henry received the best education available at the time and was proficient in many things including several musical instruments; he also had a fine singing voice. Henry had a huge collection of instruments, and it's is thought he had over 70 flutes and recorders, as well as several trombones, trumpets and even bagpipes.
Henry was known far and wide for his musical ability, and people would travel from all over Europe to attend court and he loved to experiment with different combinations of instruments playing together. As well as an insatiable appetite for food and women he also had the same passion for music and had some of the finest musicians at his beck and call to provide constant entertainment, even when in the company of his many lady friends!
However, Henry did not just rely on the many courtiers for his music; he was also a prolific composer himself. It is thought he composed hundreds of ballads and masses throughout his life, and although a lot of them have been lost over the years, there are still some standout pieces that are performed today. But contrary to popular belief, it seems he did not write the popular folk song Greensleeves. Probably one of his most well-known songs these days is “Pastime with Good Company” and “Helas Madame.”
There is still a collection of his music kept at the British Library in London, in a book called Henry VIII’s songbook. It contains works from Henry from as young as 11 years old, right up to near the time of his death; some of these compositions are incredibly complex, and obviously written by a very talented man.
1Wrote His Own Prescriptions
Henry was profoundly affected by the death of his older brother Prince Arthur, who died of Sweating Sickness (A form of Cholera), and spent most of his life obsessed with his health and medical care. Nowadays he would be considered a hypochondriac. He was also known for his reliance on apothecaries and herbalists. So it is no surprise that he had a large medicine cabinet, with many weird and wonderful remedies for the many ailments of Tudor times. It is said that Henry concocted some of these himself.
In an era when life expectancy was short, if illness struck the only hope was that herbal remedies would provide a cure. Included in Henry's prescription book were various herbal ointments to treat his ulcerated legs, and recipes for “restraining humours” some of the ingredients contained in these remedies were plantain, linseed, marshmallow and fenugreek. It is said that Henry put so much faith in these preparations that he would not travel without all the necessary equipment to make them up.
In later life, Henry suffered from a variety of medical conditions and was plagued with constipation, that in turn caused painful piles, these were treated with rhubarb a recipe that appeared to give him some relief. His gout was treated with goats grease and saffron. It is thought that Henry also would have been suffering from some sort of STD, possibly syphilis, this would have been treated with “The King's Grace Ointment” a potion made from sweet yellow clover.
Henry's ulcerated legs were wrapped in herbal poultices, but nothing alleviated the pain of his dreadful infections, and the smell of the bandages was so putrid as his wounds festered and oozed pus, that vast amounts of perfume was used to try and disguise the smell of his decaying, gangrene ridden body.
Sadly no amount of herbs were ever going to save the King as he succumbed to his infections, along with a string of other medical conditions on 28th January 1547.